Recently, I read and commented on a blog post about How to Write Protagonists of Colour When You’re White. If you don’t want to read the article or scroll all the way down to the comments to find mine, I’ll post it here:
This. I needed this article. I’ve been debating writing PoC and Indigenous characters in my own stories, and having doubts of my ability to do so. The very first question you posed in your article made me really think about it for the first time, and made me realize my reasoning was dubious at best; at worst, it’s insensitive and racist. Reading the entire article enlightened me to the justifications I’d been employing.
“Thank you. You opened my eyes to my own limitations and a good way of helping get more sincere and accurate books about PoC and Indigenous people onto shelves and into the hands of readers–by reading and boosting the visibility of those WRITTEN BY People of Color and Indigenous people.
I’ll be completely honest here. There’s a part of me that’s been screaming, But I don’t write contemporary characters! They’re all set on secondary worlds!
But I do tend to draw on real-world cultures to create the cultures for most of my fantasy worlds. For instance, I’ve got a story set in a culture somewhat based on Ancient Egypt. I’ve changed the pantheon a bit, but outlined a river-based country set in a desert; they bury their dead rulers in caves carved out of cliffs and the river system floods annually as rains come in over the mountains from the east. People in this type of region would naturally be brown-skinned. If I’m not writing characters of color, what do I do with this entire story series? I’ll write on it, because it’s impossible to stop my creative mind from leading me back around to it eventually, and forcing myself to not write something is as emotionally and spiritually debilitating as writing something I have ideas for but wish to write. But should I sell the stories if I ever complete them?
And then there’s Chraest, one of my science fantasy worlds. I have written previously and planned on writing characters of color. My justification for it before was that the humans are very far removed from our cultures here. Their ancestors landed on Chraest, and the native intelligent race enslaved them all, and some even proceeded to “collect” slaves of certain specific “types”—like redheads with green eyes and freckles, or people of a particular Asian appearance. Eventually, some members of the native intelligence come around to the conception that slavery is bad and free their slaves, which starts a movement. They and their freed humans are eventually exiled to the continent Chraest’s native race had pretty much denuded and abandoned, and the natives who’d freed their slaves accessed the remains of the ancient human spacecraft to collect information and whatever else they could to help the freed humans settle the denuded continent. Some humans kept the mindset of the collectors and segregated themselves as “pure,” a concept that continues to cause tension and strife among the Chraest-born free humans throughout the years. What do I do with these stories?
I want to add diverse characters where they have an opportunity to exist. I do not want to do it in such a way that is offensive to People of Color and Indigenous People. I also don’t want to allow myself to justify my writing of diverse characters. But what do I do with the worlds, the stories, and the ideas that include characters of color? I won’t stop having them, and I’ll write them, if only to lay them to rest for a period of time. Do I share them? Do I sell them (if I get that far)?
I just don’t know.